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Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics [Kindle Edition]

Ari Berman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

After the 2004 election, the Republican Party held the White House, both houses of Congress, twenty-eight governorships, and a majority of state legislatures. One-party rule, it seemed, was here to stay.

Herding Donkeys tells the improbable tale of the grassroots resurgence that transformed the Democratic Party from a lonely minority to a sizable majority. It chronicles the inside story of Howard Dean's visionary yet deeply controversial fifty-state strategy, charting his unpredictable journey from insurgent presidential candidate, to front-running flameout, to chairman and conscience of the Democratic Party in an unexpected third act. Ari Berman reveals how the Obama campaign built upon Dean's strategy when others ridiculed it, expanding the ranks of the party and ultimately laying the groundwork for Obama's historic electoral victory--but also sowing the seeds of dissent that would lead to legislative stalemate and intraparty strife.

Revelatory and entertaining, in the vein of Timothy Crouse's The Boys on the Bus and Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, Herding Donkeys combines fresh reportage with a rich and colorful cast of characters. It captures the untold stories of the people and places that reshaped the electoral map, painting a vivid portrait of a shifting country while dissecting the possibility and peril of a new era in American politics.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for Herding Donkeys

“The resurgence of the Democratic Party in the past two election cycles is one of the most important—and least understood—political stories of the new century. Ari Berman tells that tale with reportorial verve, a keen eye, a sharp pen, and a wealth of fresh insight. If you want to understand the grassroots revival of progressivism in America, and also the new challenges and aching disappointments that have come along with it, this is the book to read.” —John Heilemann, national political columnist for New York magazine and coauthor of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of Lifetime

“Ari Berman has written a political narrative so revelatory and exhilarating it kept me up nights reading. Herding Donkeys is some of the freshest and incisive political reporting out there, and Berman, who has the keen eye of a novelist, is one heck of a storyteller.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America

Herding Donkeys is essential to understanding how the Democratic Party came back from the dead in 2006 and 2008. But it’s especially good at explaining what happened to all of Barack Obama’s grassroots energy. This is a hopeful but also sobering tale, told with strong inside reporting.” —Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One

Herding Donkeys is political reporting at its finest. In his spirited debut, Ari Berman takes readers inside the back rooms and living rooms where politics actually happens, but his novel vantage point doesn’t prevent him from rendering the tough but fair judgments every great political reporter needs to make. This is a ripping account of the Democratic Party through an intense period of historic ...

About the Author

ARI BERMAN is a political correspondent for The Nation and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and National Public Radio. He lives in New York City.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Permanent Campaign and Journey of Howard Dean October 7, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Herding Donkeys" is about the singular political journey of Howard Dean and several unknown (at least on the national level) grass roots activists in places like Boise, Waco and Western North Carolina who laid the foundation for the election of Barack Obama and many Democrats in Congress in 2006 and 2008. In some ways the story is a familier one -- feisty outsiders get fed up and plot thier way to political power even where they are outnumbered and ignored by power brokers in state capitols and, especially, Washington, DC. The book gives a sense of what made the Obama Campaign different -- because it began as a progressive movement in 2003 and 2004 when nobody outside of Chicago had ever heard of Obama.

Dean, an outsiders insider, is juxtaposed against Rahm Emmanual who plays the part of an insiders insider. The two are the Democrats' yin and yang. This book is told from Deans perspective as well as the organizers who learned campaigning and new internet tools with Dean and never stopped until Democrats took Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Occasionally the chronology in the book is confusing as characters such as Dean then Obama organizer Jeremy Bird bounces from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Ohio to Washington. Herding Donkeys captures much of the zeitgeist of a time that has passed and hints at what has become of the forces that propelled Obama in 2008. It's an look at what political organizers do in places like Colorado Springs and Florence, SC before the big money and big media take hold of a movement and many of the brash young organizers move to Washington to replenish the ranks of the dreaded establishment.

Berman's achievement is that he has written a new kind of campaign book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's Always Hope! October 26, 2010
As a Northerner living in South Carolina, I was intrigued by Ari Berman's book describing the transformation of red states to blue or purple. His book vividly portrays the `hidden' democrats in America's blue states. It was heartening to read how the progressive democrats began to emerge from their cocoons to support Obama. They went from a minority to a majority; a force of nature.
Behind that force of nature, however, was Howard Dean, who motivated thousands of volunteers to rally behind their candidate and stand up for Change!!

Berman's descriptions of people and places make the book a page turner. I could not wait to read what happened in Idaho, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and was intrigued by the 200 people he interviewed. I was also given much needed insights as to how the political system works and fails. Ultimately Howard Dean who launched a successful 50 state strategy, does not get acknowledged, nor lands a position in the new Administration.

The last part of the book describes the challenges that Obama has faced and how
his administration did not support the constituency that elected him and the consequences which may be obvious in this coming election.

However, the book is upbeat, informative, and I am looking forward to a sequel. Nice job, Berman!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Herding Donkeys November 25, 2010
By Karen J
Berman's analysis of the Democratic Party provides an eye-opening account of what's right and what's wrong. I found the information about organizing across the state of North Carolina (I too am a transplanted Northerner) fascinating. He gives readers an up close and personal view of how a small group of citizens can indeed make a difference within our complex and often frustrating political system.

Perhaps the best thing about Berman's approach is his use of language. This book tackles a usually dry topic in an easy to read manner. Regardless of the reader's level of participation in politics, Berman's explanations and analysis are easily understood and might even encourage readers to get involved at the local level.

Perhaps today's Democratic Party leaders should take some time to read this analysis. Who knows? They might regroup and rebuild!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Captivating Knowledgeable Book! October 18, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Berman's book is a riveting account of how the grass roots movement started during Howard Dean's campaign and successfully motivated America to come out to inspire the country to vote and elect President Obama. whom they believed could finally be the voice of the people.

From the beginning, the book captures your attention, as Berman goes thru the red states: Texas, Indiana, Colorado, North Carolina and meets the people who want change and work hard to accomplish it. From the back roads, to the inner cities, to the middle class mansions, all walks of life come together to turn this election in their favor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Ari gave the political facts a novel-like flavor. It was engaging from the beginning. You felt you were in those living rooms, making signs, putting up posters, calling your friends. He gives vivid descriptions of the organizers and their sometimes unconventional environments. After each chapter, I was totally looking forward to the next state and the people I would meet there.

Also, Berman gives clear and articulate insights as to why Obama's popularity with the grass roots movement has hit some rough patches.

There is humor, insight, political savvy in this book. I recommend it for anyone who cares about their country, their government, and how making a change is possible.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting
Brief mention of the history of NCDP story 2006-2010. Big question, what do we do now? I'm interested in feedback.
Published 3 months ago by E. M. Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Jewel M. Guzzardi
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm sick of politics
Didn't read
Published 7 months ago by Nadia Aronson
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost as Hard as Herding Cats
Subtitled "The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics," it is primarily a history of the significance of Howard Dean in the recent developments... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Barbara Frederick
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are a political junkie, you'll love this.
Kind of like "Game Change", but more historical and instructive. I carried it around and read a few pages at a time waiting for appointments, etc. Enjoyed it!
Published 23 months ago by olmamma
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics
If you want to know how political campaigns are managed from the grass roots, you'll enjoy the account of the work of Gov. Howard Dean in the Democrat Party. Read more
Published on January 16, 2013 by J. Duran
5.0 out of 5 stars What I Didn't Know
I'm a Democrat but out of it. I didn't know Howard Dean headed the DNC. In fact, I was confusing the DNC and the DLC. I discovered I am completely in agreement with Howard Dean.
Published on September 6, 2012 by Rod
2.0 out of 5 stars Obama 2008 Campaign Redux
If you are liberal/Democrat and totally outraged by what Obama has done since being elected then this book is not for you. Read more
Published on October 30, 2011 by PaulArt
3.0 out of 5 stars Herding Donkeys: Rounding out the Picture
When interviewing Ari Berman for Blog for Iowa last November, I learned that his book Herding Donkeys would include a lot about Howard Dean. Read more
Published on February 21, 2011 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Is this as good as it gets?
HERDING DONKEYS: THE FIGHT TO REBUILD THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND RESHAPE AMERICAN POLITICS makes me want to yell Jack Nicholson's great rhetorical question, "Is this as good as it... Read more
Published on December 6, 2010 by J. L LaRegina
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